Let traditional Hong Kong industries be challenged by tech sector, says top computer scientist

Traditional industries would have to innovate if challenged by tech sector, says top IT scientist

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 12:24am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 7:12am

Allowing traditional industries such as finance to be challenged by competition from the tech sector will be more important than creating an innovation and technology bureau, says the University of Science and Technology's top computer scientist.

"The idea of the … bureau is good, but the crux of the problem is not with the bureau," said Yang Qiang, the university's chair professor and head of computer science and engineering.

"The bureau should be an effect, not the cause. The cause should be the whole government from the top must think innovation is the key for Hong Kong's future, and the bureau should be a phenomenon of this [thinking]."

The government's proposal for an IT bureau was scuttled after a funding request to the Finance Committee to set it up was killed off by a pan-democratic filibuster in February.

Speaking just before he took up the New Bright Professorship in engineering last week, Yang said it was vital for the city to allow traditional "comfortable" industries such as the financial sector to be challenged by information technology and big data, to spur true innovation.

He cited the mainland as a good example, in which the financial industry was forced to evolve from a "conservative backwater" after the government allowed internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent to compete with them in online payments.

"This created a major nervousness in the financial industry and suddenly they were keen to invite the internet companies to come in and help them innovate to meet the challenges," Yang said. "The end result was that many small start-ups benefited."

To see this in Hong Kong, a situation must be created where there is competition, he said. "The financial industry is sitting comfortably. They are facing no competition from other sectors."

Yang, an expert in data mining and artificial intelligence, said the use of "big data" could also be introduced into different sectors to help propel innovation and establish smarter cities.

"They key word is differentiation. Before we didn't have that much information or data so we used a uniform solution for everybody. Now we can use individual solutions."

On transport for example, real-time information from all corners and streets can be integrated and analysed to provide drivers with the information they need to plan better trips. In energy, real electricity needs can be presented to individuals and companies to show them how it can be used more efficiently.

In health care, Yang said wearable devices on patients could provide a trove of useful medical data, from exercise patterns to restaurant visits. "Hospitals can integrate this with diagnostic and genetic data and provide much better health-related recommendations."

He agreed that data privacy and safety was a concern, but stricter laws and codes on best practice could be introduced to regulate the use of data.

"Before data was scattered like individual islands. It was not fused together so you never got the big picture, but a collection of small ones. When data is integrated, you get a fuller picture of somebody."